Tuesday, May 19, 2009

Pain, Fear, or Fear of Pain?

More Teacher Training Ah-ha's

I have noticed a tendency both in myself and in some students to hold back in a posture because of a previous bad experience, a chronic pain issue, or because of a perception that something bad will happen.

I try to do a couple of 40-day practices throughout the year. In one of my 40 day practices last year I laid on the foam strip every day (in addition to other postures). It felt so good that I would stay for quite some time. I don't keep a clock in the room where I do yoga so I can't say for sure how long it actually was.

After a couple of weeks I started to have extreme discomfort in my mid-back. I had a hard time taking a full breath and I felt like I needed to crack my back all the time. The only time I didn't hurt was when I was laying on the strip.

Finally the pain got to be too much and I made an appointment with my chiropractor. Turns out my back was all out of whack - especially around T7 and T8 - the exact region where the end of the foam strip would rest. My chiropractor was able to get me adjusted but I became misaligned again within a few days and had to go back.

After that experience I became fearful of the foam strip. I didn't want to lay on it at all but we were using it a lot in the classes I was attending so I often had to lay on it. So I modified the pose and used the strip in 1 layer instead of 2, placed a blanket under my bum and only stayed for a couple of minutes.

Then I had a training with Susi Hately Aldous and she wanted us to use the foam strip doubled up. I was so scared of creating pain again in my body that I started to cry. Susi talked me through it, saying to breathe to the area and ask myself if I was actually having pain or if I was having fear. An interesting question. Something we could all ask ourselves about many things. In this case it turns out I was having fear of pain, not pain itself.

In the book, The Yamas and Niyamas Deborah Adele talks about Svadhyaya (Self-Study). This idea of breathing into an area of the body and asking it what is going on in there (self-study) has been helpful to me in figuring out old hurts and habits and in working out new patterns and postures.

Now I can lay on the foam strip (doubled) without pain but still with a little fear - I like to call it caution. I stay only as long as I feel comfortable. I keep my awareness in my spine and as soon as I start to have discomfort I remove the foam strip. With this new awareness I am able to reap the benefits of the opening that comes from using the foam strip in the doubled up position without crossing the edge into pain.

Happy exploring.

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